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COMPUTERS IN THE CLASSROOMS WILL MULTIPLY

Tapping a surprise $600,000 in-lieu-of-taxes payment, the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board Monday decided to add hundreds more computers to classrooms next year, mostly in the high schools.

But the board also ordered administrators to look for ways to otherwise reduce next year's proposed $96.4 million budget by at least $1.3 million.

And, in other action, the board also decided to put on the May 19 ballot a $550,000 measure for new buses and other vehicles that will increase taxes an average of $2 per taxpayer starting in the 2000-2001 school year.

Acting in a special session, the board decided to add 77 computers to Kenmore West and 80 to Kenmore East -- or one per classroom -- while also creating one computer-intensive classroom in each of the 12 Ken-Ton schools.

The infusion of new computers will cost about $535,000. But rather than put the measure before voters, who last year rejected a proposal for new computers, the board decided Monday to use the unexpected $600,000 in-lieu-of-taxes bounty.

District officials would not say which business is responsible for the payment. But interim Superintendent Robert B. Fort cautioned the board not to get used to the extra cash. He said the business is trying to sell its property, so the chances of its being around long term are slim.

Not bonding for computers saves Ken-Ton money in interest and other fees, officials noted. But increasing computer spending raised questions. Trustee Anne Evans asked if all high-school teachers are truly prepared to use computers in classrooms.

She said concentrating computers in one classroom in lower grades means students sometimes enjoy a computer-rich year in one grade and then almost no instruction or exposure the next year.

"I'm concerned with the (lack of) continuity," she said.

Other trustees felt the plan was the best the district could offer, at least for the time being.

"This is a good starting point," said Trustee Paul Weiss.

Much of the session involved tinkering with next year's budget. Monday's draft put spending at $96,456,136 -- or about 2 percent higher than last year's -- although the new computer plan increases that number.

By leaning on the budget surplus, the spending plan avoids a tax increase next year. But Trustee Dan Wiles asked that at least $1.3 million be cut without hurting programs.

Fort said that amount could be trimmed if the state allows early teacher retirement incentives. Beyond that, he said, next year's budget has little fat to cut, especially since new standards by the state require more teacher training.

Fort agreed to return with a list of cuts when the board meets to discuss the budget again on April 13. But he warned that he probably would not show up with any dramatic reductions.

"We've wrung a lot of money out of the budget to begin with," he said.

In other action, the board divided up the district into three polling places for May 19.

Roughly, election district one includes the 14150 zip code west of Military Road. Voting will be at the Philip Sheridan Building. Voting district two includes the 14223 zip code with voting at Hoover Middle School. The third district encompasses the rest of the 14150 zip code with voting at the Brighton Fire Hall.

The School Board also voted to put on the May 19 ballot a measure changing the way candidates run for a seat on the board. Under the current system, candidates run for a specific seat.

The trustees want candidates to run at large instead, with the top voter-getters being installed to the seats up for grabs.

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